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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Surviving the Holidays

christmas-tree-decorations(9)For any child, holidays often mean over-stimulation and a departure from their normal schedule.  And that translates into tantrums and scenes.

For an adopted child, the holidays may add yet additional layers, such as feelings of unworthiness, conflicted feelings over family gatherings, survivors’ guilt (why am I here celebrating while my friends are stuck back in the orphanage in the Old Country?).  Add these emotions on top of the long days and nights, different social obligations of holiday performances or get-togethers, the excitement over gifts, and more.

For these reasons, many adoptive parents simply “write-off” the thholidays.  They’re going to be miserable, no matter what, so why get your hopes up?

Sad, but I understand it.

What I could never understand were the a-parents who insisted on over-stimulating their kids from Day One.  In the beginning, keep it short, simple, and sweet.  If you don’t go to the Nutcracker Ballet, and the family reunion, and decorate every square inch of your home, then fine.  There will always be next year.

Give two or three gifts, instead of twenty.

But no, a lot of parents can’t seem to curb their zeal, and then wonder when the kids can’t curb their dysregulation.  If A, then B– not a complicated equation to learn.

However, when the kids have been home for several years and the adoptive family is not so “new” any more, can the parents ever expect to return to normal holidays?

christmas_dishesYes and no.  It all depends on the child.

If you adopt one fairly easy-going child, you will have ten times more of a chance to absorb him or her into your family’s already-existing traditions.  That was our first child, Petya, happy as a clam to fit right in.

The next three, for reasons all their own, liked to throw wrenches into any and all happy scenarios.

So for all of you suffering through the holidays, I feel your pain.  And I say that it’s high time to enjoy the holidays if you’ve already gone through three or more years of transition and suffering.  Here’s what you can do:

1. Make sure the children get plenty of rest.  A Saturday or Sunday afternoon nap can work wonders.  Make it special by HanukkahFoodhaving some hot cocoa ready for them when they awake.  Our teens never sleep-in, but they do take the occasional nap which they really enjoy when given the chance.  A well-rested child is a much more regulated child.  And if one refuses, you can still institute a “quiet hour” (“tee-hee chass” in Russian) when they engage in a quiet activity such as reading, instead of electronics or TV.

2.  Ratchet down the sugar and dyed foods.  While I’m not of the opinion that a cookie a day or the infrequent small bag of potato chips will destroy brain cells, I have read the research suggesting that over-sugared, over-processed foods are best to be avoided.  Look at IMG_3876the color of your kids’ beverages.  Read the labels on everything from pasta sauce to mac-and-cheese. High sodium content,, along with fructose, sucrose, and the big “S” itself (sugar) will not help your child to successfully navigate the holidays.  Try to get some sweetness in a natural way, such as with apples or clementines this time of year.

3.  Do something fun yourself.  Yes, it will cost extra to have someone watch the children while you go out to a concert or party, but really, in the end result, it will be worth it.  And if every extended-family holiday turns out to be hell-on-wheels, hey, leave the kids out of it.  Maybe next year they’ll be ready to get with the program.  No need to suffer for years on end.  A babysitter is your best bet. 

Please note:  if your child is 16 or 17 and can’t be trusted to behave at a family gathering, I would not leave him or her at thhome alone.  Rather than call the person a babysitter, get a “house sitter” who will keep an eye on the house, and the child.  Set some firm ground rules, and then get out of town, and have a good time.  If the gathering’s at your place, then enlist a family friend to take the child for a sleepover, preferably in a home with no other children.

4.  Understand what are your son’s or daughter’s holiday triggers.  Long discussions around the family table may try the patience of Job.  Wrapping present after present could signal thoughts of loss and deprivation from the past.  Some kids like to be invited to help with the holiday baking or decorating, others prefer to chill in their room.  You’ll make it through.  The less pressure, the better.  Or, divide up some simple chores (set the table, vacuum, stack the dishwasher) so the child understands that everyone is helping in some small way.  Keep it simple.

yolanda5.  Involve the child.  Ask what are their favorite traditions?  What do they most enjoy from years past?  (Come up with a list if they can’t remember.)  No, you don’t need the holiday held hostage by only doing what they wish, however, you might discover what to emphasize and what to downplay around them.

And isn’t that what family and holidays are all about– learning to please others, focusing on things greater than ourselves, while spending some quality time together?

What works for your family at the holidays?

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